On Mourning Mother’s Day.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend. The second since my mother died. And I don’t know why, but this year I’m having a hard time, worse than last year. Maybe it started with the Spotify ad* that interrupted me a week ago, sitting at my desk at work, jamming to Dawes.

“You probably talk to your mom on a pretty regular basis, right?”

No, Spotify. I don’t. But thanks for asking.

I ripped my earphones out like they were on fire and burst into tears, hyperventilating like a small, terrified child.

I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before – such a visceral, instantaneous, physical reaction to something so happenstance and fleeting.

And actually, in a weird way, I feel kind of blessed for not having experienced that before. I know people who experience those kinds of triggers and debilitating encounters on a daily basis, and for you who are reading this and experience that, my heart goes out to you.

And for those of you reading this and scratching your heads about my sudden “adversity” to Mother’s Day, please know that this is not an attack on motherhood, but a rejection of the way that our culture talks about and celebrates it on this particular day of the year, and a protest against the way that grief is glossed over in general, on this and every other day of the year.

It is not my lack of respect for motherhood that makes this day hard for me; it is precisely because I have experienced it so profoundly as my mother’s daughter that I am a complete emotional basket case this year. Much like my frustration with the breast cancer awareness movement, I am tired of the way that motherhood is truncated into a Hallmark holiday.

But let’s be honest : we want to blame it on the advertising industry, but many of our own faith communities and families have bought the lie lock-stock-and-barrel, communicating pretty overtly that the day is only properly expressed through greeting cards, over-priced flowers, and sitting through a painful church service that alienates women who do not fit the narrow definition of biological motherhood, which explains why the day is so painful and guilt-stricken for many of us who can’t quite stomach it.

For me, the daughter of a dead mother who also happened to be my best friend, the sentiment always seems to be something like :

Your mother was a great person and that’s reason to celebrate!

Or, you have a mother-in-law! Celebrate her!

No. Sorry. Wrong answer. Defaulting all my Mother’s Day cheer to my mother-in-law, though I love her dearly, does not make up for how much I miss my actual mother, the one that birthed and raised me and whom I watched die a slow and painful death.

So for last year and this year and perhaps several more to come, I’ll be celebrating Mother’s Day by taking my mother-in-law to brunch and then spending my time how I wish, reflecting on my mother’s life. I will give myself the grace and permission to avoid making this day a giant, painful platitude on the deepest wounds of my heart. I will offer grace and permission for the woundedness of my friends who want to be mothers and cannot, who want better mothers but don’t have them, who are not celebrated for the way they nurture their loved ones without being a biological mother, or who simply don’t want to be mothers and feel judged for that decision.

We have a pervasive social misunderstanding that to mourn with those who mourn somehow detracts from our ability to rejoice with those rejoice. But my grief is not an insult to your joy. Nor does my grief dismiss my gratitude for those who continue to mother me. And to put on a happy face and pretend that it doesn’t hurt in order to appease the discomfort of people around me is unnecessary and cheap.

Instead, I have discovered that learning to mourn well and grieve with others can only deepen our joy and authenticate our appreciation for the mothering presences in our lives, however they manifest. And this joy and appreciation doesn’t have to be celebrated the way others expect, or on one particular day of the year.

This is the hard, wild, beautiful reality of love lost : that in our deepest sorrow, we are acknowledging and honoring that profound influence on our life. 

*Any smartass comments about paying for Spotify Premium will be deleted. 

  • http://www.SammyA.com Sammy Adebiyi

    Thankful for your courage in writing this Bethany. I’ll be honest, as a pastor, this is not a perspective I’ve really considered so this was both refreshing and challenging.

    Thank you.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thank you, Sammy. It is always my hope that discussions like this have a ripple effect for changing our faith communities and making them better for everyone, no matter how diverse their experiences. So glad my words have helped you. :)

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    I’m proud of you for recognizing what you need, Bethany. I walked out of church the Mother’s Day after my grandma died. It was one slap in the face after another. I still celebrated with my mom later that day but we couldn’t escape Grandma’s absence and I recognize we didn’t need to. Loss shapes us, for better or worse, and we can’t ignore the ways we miss our loved ones.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks so much, Leigh. xoxo.

  • Tamara Rice

    Thank you for this, Bethany. It’s beautiful. This part is so, so true: “We have a pervasive social misunderstanding that to mourn with those who mourn somehow detracts from our ability to rejoice with those rejoice.” We certainly do. And we do not have nearly enough room for grief, especially somehow in the church–which is odd, I know. Loved this. Thank you for sharing your perspective on Mother’s Day.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thank you, Tamara. A couple of the posts you’ve written recently really gave me the courage to write this. Hope you have a happy Mother’s Day!

  • http://lauralynnbrown.com/ Laura Lynn Brown

    My mom has been gone for 24 years and I still feel that empty space she should occupy in my life. Thanks for this discussion of how Mother’s Day (and other cultural high holy days) can be both/and instead of either/or.

  • https://kateschell.wordpress.com/ Kate Schell

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s an important one. I hope tomorrow is as quiet and refreshing a day as you need it to be.
    I read an article yesterday about one of the founders of the holiday, Anna Jarvis. Your perpsective on how we Hallmark-ize a day for memorial isn’t far from how she eventually felt: “Jarvis’ conceived of of Mother’s Day as an intimate occasion—a son or daughter honoring the mother they knew and loved—and not a celebration of all mothers. … She soon grew disillusioned, as Mother’s Day almost immediately became centered on the buying and giving of printed cards, flowers, candies and other gifts.” http://bit.ly/YBL4IB

  • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com Erin Adams

    These are brave and true words! This is SO right – “We have a pervasive social misunderstanding that to mourn with those who mourn somehow detracts from our ability to rejoice with those rejoice. But my grief is not an insult to your joy. Nor does my grief dismiss my gratitude for those who continue to mother me.”
    Thank you for sharing this, Bethany.
    May your day be a blessing as you rest and reflect.

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